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Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers? (Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series) – June 14, 2009

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  • PDF | Unknown pages
  • harvard university press (may 15, 2009) (1605)
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  • By Malvin on August 29, 2009

    "Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?" by Zygmunt Bauman brilliantly reasserts the importance of ethics in a frequently inhumane world. Distilling a lifetime of experiences and wisdom into a highly readable and thought-provoking tract, Mr. Bauman once again demonstrates why he remains one of the most insightful thinkers of our time. The book will no doubt provide inspiration to readers who might otherwise think that a more peaceful and secure future may no longer be possible.Mr. Bauman touches on many of the themes found in his acclaimed 'Liquid Modern' series of books (such as Liquid Life and Liquid Times), including the failures of the nation state, the transition from modernism to postmodernism, the ascendancy of consumerism, insecurity and terrorism, and more. Here, however Mr. Bauman centers the discussion on ethics, demonstrating how humanity's grand sociological experiments with fascism, communism and neoliberalism have failed to deliver on the promise of utopia on earth. In fact, Mr. Bauman's description of today's postmodern culture of extreme individuality, transience and forgetting seems to mock the idea that civilization might serve a higher purpose other than to mediate the smooth functioning of the market system and the unfettered pursuit of material wealth.Mr. Bauman's astute analysis makes clear that the false sense of security purchased through military might has deprived the nation-state of the resources it desperately needs to eradicate the inequality that is at loggerheads with building a just and sustainable future for all. Nonetheless, Mr. Bauman contends that an uniquely European consciousness that stresses the ethics of tolerance and inclusiveness is key to forming a more humane community. Mr. Bauman cites the continent's spontaneous mass public uprising in opposition to the Iraq War as evidence that a more ethical society is possible, even if we cannot imagine what the institutional or organizational structure for such a world might look like at the present.I give this outstanding book the highest possible rating and recommend it to everyone.

  • By Jason Reynolds on August 2, 2015

    This was my introduction to the writing of Zygmunt Bauman. I am researching ethics and this book was unusual, thought-provoking and fully relevant in a way that other titles were not. This book got me thinking in new ways about ethics in our modern world. His insights into our world also changed the way I see the world around me.

  • By A. P. Oele on June 25, 2008

    In this book Zygmunt Bauman proves again to have a outstreched antenna for change. He also proves to be highly knowledgeable regarding the filosofical and historical aspects in his search for the ethical consequences of globalisation and consemerism. A lot of writers known for their deep insights in the human condition are quoted. It does not make for easy reading. The writer wants his conclusions to be solidly rooted in the work of present and past key experts on change. That leads to a comprehensive revieuw of the theses on social change and makes it rewarding reading. Main conclusions are: globalisation is irreversible; consuming habits prevail and makes societal connections liquid and temporal; the nation state is left behind and can no longer presen a setting for ethical behavior; a transnational europe-like arrangement may be a model for an new framework for ethics, the more so if this ensures a social economical policy of the scandinavian type. The last conclusion rests more on hope than on facts but is nevertheless positive enough to keep it in mind. Anyway I enjoyed meeting Bauman again in this book and recognised in him the sociologist going further than describing trends and giving warnings. Adriaan Oele.

  • By Clarissa's Blog on April 23, 2010

    Zygmunt Bauman is one of my favorite contemporary philosophers. His interest in the mechanisms of identity construction is enough to make me follow his work with great dedication.Bauman's recent "Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?" made a dubious impression on me. Everything Bauman has to say about identity is really good. Everything he has to say on other topics, however, is really not. This is unusual, since normally philosophers are provoked by the topic of identity into uttering strings of annoying platitudes. Bauman avoids this danger and talks about identity in a thought-provoking and profound way. The other subjects he addresses in "Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers?", though, are analyzed in a much weaker way. Unfortunately, a moment comes in everybody's life when our brain cannot process change as effectively as it used to when we were younger. As a result, we see any change in our world as at worst terrifying and at best negative. This is, sadly, what happens to Bauman. His fear of today's reality taints his analysis and robs it of any intellectual value. I have no patience with anybody whose sexism and racism do not allow them to recognize that life today is without a shadow of a doubt better than at any other point in history. Bauman's lamentations about some unspecified past when everything was better, fresher, and sweeter are a testimony to his nostalgia for his lost youth. This nostalgia is so strong that it overruns the obvious ethical considerations that should have helped Bauman remember that the current historical period he dislikes so much is characterized by an incredible progress in the rights of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities.In this review, I will first address the parts of Bauman's argument that I really liked. Then, I will proceed to discuss the much weaker second half of this book.Bauman starts his discussion of identity formation by observing how much the task of creating an identity is linked to fear, anxiety, and constant insecurity. The idea that identity today is negotiable, fluid, and non-static has, of course, turned into something of a favorite platitude among the theorists of identity. What is different in Bauman's analysis is that his thinking does not stop there. He realizes that the qualities of fluidity and variability of contemporary identities do not in any way rob them of their potential to do harm. It is a given that everybody today moves seamlessly between identities. This mere fact, however, does nothing to alleviate the dreadful burden of identity.By its very nature, collective identity requires a common enemy. The ever-growing complexity of today's world makes the need for this enemy stronger, instead of weaker. Consequently, when the world becomes less clear and more complex, a group needs to construct an enemy who is more and more evil with every passing day. Thus, those who believe that we live in a post-identity world are completely wrong. I have no idea whether these people even follow the news or turn on the television. There are no structures in place today that would dilute the strength of collective identifications. Just the opposite.After this impressive discussion of identity, Bauman proceeds to talk about the actual subject of his book, which is the relationship between ethics and consumerism. And here, unfortunately, his argument begins to fall apart. In order to introduce the topic of ethics, the philosopher comes out with the following bizarre statement: "In order to have self-love, we need to be loved or to have hope of being loved. Refusal of love-a snub, a rejection, denial of the status of a love-worthy object-breeds self-hatred. Self-love is built of the love offered to us by others. Others must love us first, so that we can begin to love ourselves."It honestly took me a while to realize that the author was completely serious in this statement. When I finally saw that no punch line was coming and this is exactly what he meant to say, I felt pretty embarrassed for Bauman. You cannot proceed to theorize on the basis of your psychological insecurities and neuroses. Of course, we can never escape them, but the least we could do is avoid projecting them onto the entire world. The kind of self-love that is so dependent on the aceptance and approval of others is beyond unhealthy. A theory constructed on the basis of this vision cannot convince anybody.I hope in the future, Bauman manages to avoid such useless platitudes and we will see him at his philosophical best once again.


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